Indigenous peoples

Indigenous peoples

Indigenous peoples

As stated by the International Labour Organisation, the expression “Indigenous and tribal peoples” is a common denominator for more than 370 million people, found in more than 90 countries worldwide. They represent humanity in all its diversity but they all have in common the fact that they are among the most excluded and discriminated, the most threatened and often the poorest, communities worldwide.

Indigenous Peoples refer to "those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal system".

This definition is the most widely cited “working definition” of indigenous peoples. But no formal definition has been adopted in international law yet. Despite the ongoing debate, the key criterion of self-identification is widely recognized today.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) was the first international organization to address indigenous and tribal issues and signal the need for cooperation and international attention. It does it through its Convention N°169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries.

Another key international policy is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As a declaration, it does not have the binding force of a treaty. Nevertheless, it establishes important rights and goes beyond the ILO Convention in some subjects, inter alia, when it obliged States to obtain the free and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples prior to the projects’ approval, particularly in connection with the development, use or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.

The private sector lending branch of the World Bank, the Group International Finance Corporation, has recently revised its “Performance Standards”.  The Environmental and Social Standard No. 7 precisely targets the Indigenous Peoples and its objective is to improve protection for communities and environment and as a result, contributing to poverty reduction and sustainable development.

Currently, the key issues affecting indigenous peoples are: land-ownership, ancestral domain and free, informed and prior consent.

The European Union has been active on indigenous peoples’ issues since the late 1990s. Its representatives have participated in international meetings on indigenous peoples for more than a decade. Of particular interest is the new DCI regulation for the period 2014 to 2020. It has two new programmes entitled “Global public goods and challenges” (GPGC) and “Support for civil society organizations and local authorities” prioritizing the fight against poverty and supporting inclusive growth. In both documents, EU committed itself to maintain indigenous peoples as a focus of attention given their disadvantage in all societies. To achieve these goals, the GPGC will support indicative activities including the promotion of social and cultural values of the indigenous peoples with the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and support for initiatives aimed at protecting their rights and enhancing their livelihoods.

Indigenous Views

Indigenous Views is a series of videos, produced by the EU, depicting how the SDGs can impact the lives of Indigenous peoples. They focus on the themes of a number of key SDGs, and are presented through the views of indigenous peoples from Bolivia, Colombia, Kenya, Nepal and Thailand.

Find and watch the videos here.

EU policy documents

1. Global Public Goods and Challenge (GPGC)

2. The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR)

3. The European Parliament: Indigenous Peoples, Extractive Industries and Human Rights, 2014

4. The EU Strategic Framework and Action Plan for Human Rights and Democracy, 2012

5. The European Consensus on Development, 2005

6. Council conclusions, November 1998 and 2002

External policy documents

1. The ILO Convention No. 169 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries

2. Handbook for ILO Tripartite Constituents: Understanding the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169)

3. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

4. The Indigenous Peoples World, International Work Group for Indigenous Peoples, 2014

5. State of the World's Indigenous Peoples, United Nations, 2009

6. Indigenous Peoples and United Nations Human Rights System, UN 2013

7. Guidelines on Indigenous Peoples' Issues, UN 2009

8. The World Bank Environmental and Social Standard No. 7

Useful links

1. Martinez Cobo Study:

2. United Nations: Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues:

  3. United Nations Human Rights: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: